You have to feel for DHL courier Rudy Stanke. Instead of driving his usual route in his usual truck, today he's navigating the streets of South Boston in an unfamiliar vehicle: the company's new demo hybrid delivery truck. And he is doing it with the CEO riding shotgun ... while being tailed by an SUV carrying members of the press.
DHL was holding its own version of the Discovery Channel TV show "Undercover Boss," where the boss goes undercover at his or her own company to see what life is like on the front lines. Only with DHL, the couriers had been clued in beforehand, and it was the customers who received a surprise delivery. And it wasn't just the CEO but all of the members of DHL's U.S. management board who were riding with drivers in the Greater Boston area.
Although it's unusual for DHL's full board to be out in the field at one time, it's not uncommon for senior management to go out on the road. The company sees the ride-alongs as essential for keeping top managers connected with its couriers, who CEO Ian Clough calls the company's most important assets. "They meet more customers in one day than the management team or any other part of our organization," Clough told reporters. "We recognize that most of our leads for new business come from them."
In addition to giving managers a better sense of what obstacles couriers might face (Is the scanning technology functioning as intended? Do drivers have the right-sized trucks for their routes?), the ride-alongs are intended to boost morale following DHL's 2009 exit from the U.S. package market to focus on international trade. But this morning it's hard to sense what effect the visit is having on Stanke's morale. "I'm a private guy," he says, looking slightly uncomfortable with all the attention. Indeed, when Stanke learned that Clough would be accompanying him, his first reaction was, "Oh man, couldn't you choose someone else?"
But an hour into the day, Stanke has relaxed, and he and Clough are making full use of the opportunity the trip provides to solicit direct feedback from customers. In a high-end rug shop, Clough asks a well-coiffed woman signing for a package if she would consider using DHL for her outbound shipments. She pauses. "You might not want to hear this," she says. But after some reassurances from Clough, she reveals that she had previously used DHL but switched to FedEx, mostly due to price. Clough does get her to agree to a visit from a DHL sales rep, and he and Stanke leave the shop satisfied they have a solid sales lead in hand.